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Writers Tools You’ll Use Every Day

April 1, 2013

I don’t believe that any software (or piece of equipment) can make me (or you) a better writer. I still have to do the hard work of putting words together in interesting ways—and so do you.  So I cringe when I see apps, software, and other technology being pushed as “essential” for writers.  Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and Austen did (and continue to do) pretty well without any of this technology.

I admit to being a techie attracted to shiny new things though, and I tend to be an early adopter. I read the lists of  technology “must-haves” for writers. I try just about anything new, although these days it’s pretty hard to keep up with all the innovations.  Still, I  keep coming back to a short list of  tried and trues that make my writing life easier.

Here are the tech tools I really use.

wordMicrosoft Word is my word processor, my most important writing tool.

Okay, yes, Word. I am officially boring. I know there are at least a bazillion other writing programs out there designed for writers. Yes, I know they are multi-featured with storyboard capabilities, cool bulletin boards for organizing notes, outlining tools, customized layouts, and much more. Bells! Whistles! Wahoo!

But you know what? I just want to write. I want a clean, uncluttered interface free of distraction when I’m writing, and I want to spend my precious creative time writing, not learning a complex software program.

The other thing is, while Word may not be the best or most simple word processor out there, it remains the default application in the industry. At some point you’re going to have to submit your work to an editor, agent, or publisher in Word format. Why not create with it?

dropboxDropbox provides a private place for me to store files on the web and synchs them across all my devices.

You should have more than one backup plan for your writing. Take my word for it, even if you haven’t already experienced a disaster or two like I have, your computer and external drives will inevitably fail. Be prepared.

Put a file in Dropbox, and it will be accessible via the web from any location, or on your laptop, desktop computer, tablet, or phone.

Use a public folder on Dropbox to easily share work with a writing group or writing partner, too.

evernoteEvernote is a note-taking and scrapbook tool.

With Evernote, I can write and store notes, save images and videos, capture ideas on the fly, and—with a quick tap to its browser add-on Webclipper—clip and save articles and links as I browse the Internet. Organizing everything I collect for present and future projects is easy with their tagging system.

And the best thing is, everything I store in Evernote is available to me online or offline on any of my devices: my laptop and desktop computers, iPad, and iPhone.

pandoraPandora is Internet radio you can customize.

I find music too intrusive while I’m revising, but when I write  background music seems to drown out potential distractions my fizzy brain might otherwise reach for. It seems to enhance the flow of words.

Start by entering a favorite artist, song, or genre, and Pandora creates a personalized station that plays that music and more like it. You rate the songs it selects by giving thumbs-up and thumbs-down feedback and Pandora refines your stations and plays, as their promotion says, “only music you love.”

You can enjoy the stations you create via the web or from your laptop and desktop computer, mobile phone, tablet, or e-reader.

Writers on a budget, please note. (Everyone is reading  this part, aren’t they?) You can purchase Word as a standalone program or as part of a suite of programs. I don’t use the latest version, because the older version works just fine, and as Chris pointed out on this blog, the pricing and terms were kind of hinky and have only recently changed. Writer is a free program that can read and save in Microsoft Word format and is available as part of LibreOffice.

Dropbox, Evernote, and Pandora are free, but there are affordable fees you can pay to unlock additional features and support the developers if you enjoy the benefits of their work.

What writers tech tools have you tried and discarded? Which ones do you use every day?
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Mary Ann de Stefano is a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30 years of experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she builds websites and advises on e-marketing. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

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12 Comments
  1. April 1, 2013 8:15 am

    This is one, of many, reasons I love this blog; I never knew about dropbox. I carry around several thumb drives when I travel in order to try and work on my WIP; but with dropbox, I can now breath easier, not have a galzillion versons of my WIP and trying to remember which one is the most current.

    Thanks Mary Ann for sharing this useful information.

  2. April 1, 2013 8:25 am

    Thank you for this information. Don’t you think all the various apps and gizmos for writers have been developed because Indie publishing has convinced millions with no real aptitude for writing that they can write? Quick to follow are hucksters, anxious to exploit such people.

    • Chris Hamilton permalink
      April 1, 2013 9:25 am

      I won’t argue your point about people wanting to fleece writers, Barry. That’s why resources like Writer Beware are so important. But the tools Mary Ann lists above aren’t among them. In particular, DropBox and cloud computing are the wave of the future. Within five years, chances are at least decent that you’ll be writing using word processing software that’s not resident on your computer and you won’t store your work on your computer. I store my stuff in DropBox.

      I met someone last year who lost her manuscript and didn’t know about DropBox. That’s why I’m doing a tools session at this year’s conference.

      • April 1, 2013 2:11 pm

        Oh, I’m glad you’re doing that session at the conference, Chris. I will be interested to see what you come up with.

  3. Mary Ann de Stefano permalink*
    April 1, 2013 8:35 am

    That makes me happy, Larry. The thumb drives are handy, but they do fail. Also, I had one attached to my keychain and one day it broke off and I lost it… argh! With Dropbox, your WIP will always be available to you–even on a borrowed computer.

  4. Chris Hamilton permalink
    April 1, 2013 9:26 am

    Great tool list. And while I haven’t used Pandora in more than a year, I found Spotify to be more flexible. Pandora may have caught up, though.

  5. April 1, 2013 10:14 am

    I use and love all of these! I love finding Pandora channels that match the mood of whatever I’m working on.

    I would like to add a plug for Hiveword. It’s a storyboard and note organizing tool, and it’s free. The downside is that it’s web-based, so if you are offline you can’t get to your notes. The upside is that it’s web-based, so you can get to your notes from any place with an Internet connection.

  6. April 1, 2013 6:02 pm

    Hmmm, hate to be the troublemaker in the back, but… Word isn’t actually the default anything, DOC format is (which just about any modern word processor will read/save in), as is RTF format (ditto). I haven’t used Word in years, even on Windows computers and I have yet to have anyone explain why I (or anyone else) needs to spend the money for an office suite that does about a gazillion things I don’t need in addition to: Times New Roman, 12 point, 1″ margins, 1/2″ indentation, with a header, footer, and page numbers, for short pieces.

    The other programs (i.e. the novel organizing programs) actually do several things Word doesn’t, for typically half the price of Word (less, if you’re clever) that may make them worth the investment for longer works (i.e. novels).

    Regarding Dropbox and Pandora; great web-based programs, which I also use (dropbox more so, as iTunes comes with web radio).

    • Mary Ann de Stefano permalink*
      April 1, 2013 8:09 pm

      You’re right about the doc format, Michael.

      However, in my experience, publishers still require Word docs when they’ve contracted for a work. And they still comment on manuscripts and suggest edits to authors using the “track changes” feature in Word, and often a back and forth conversation takes place through these annotations.

      That’s the way it is in my world, anyway. Your experience may be different.

      Recently I read a blog post by a writer who brought track changes annotations from Word into Scrivener, and the complexity of his process (and the risk of introducing error with his workaround) gave me a headache.

  7. May 6, 2013 11:30 am

    I stopped using Word along time ago. For me, I need all my stuff in one place, series bible, outline etc etc, character profiles and such. I’m a Scrivner disciple, I can have all my stuff in one place. Plus it’s got a full screen feature that allows you to just write, like you would in Word. Scrivener is also not a complicated program.

    Plus there are many free Tutorials and what not out there, all you have to do is look. I belong to the Scrivner group on G+. Even without those I was able to have it up and running and working for me in the time it took to install it.

    Slacker Radio or Spotify beat Pandora hands down. Unless Pandora has improved on their algorithm. I’m a Slacker Radio person for sure. Dropbox is a wonderful tool, and I use it for storing my work. I’m also experimenting with Google Drive as well. I’ve used Evernote, and still do on occasion but with Scrivner I can import webpages, pdf’s etc into the program itself and the keyword function is just like tagging.

    Just my 2 pennies on the subject.

    • May 6, 2013 1:46 pm

      Perhaps I should just change the title of the article to the more accurate “Writers Tools I Use All the Time and You’ll Like Them Too — or Not.” 🙂 🙂 🙂

      It’s all subjective.

  8. July 10, 2013 8:47 pm

    Dropbox is so wonderful! I love knowing that my draft won’t get accidentally delete off my computer because it is stored in the cloud. Plus, they store old drafts. No worries if you accidentally save over something you wanted to keep. It also allows for easy collaboration. Can I say I love it anymorwe than I do? 🙂

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